Drone deploy to Sketchup 3D Model

Hey team, :smiley:

Point Blank, I’m completely brand new, just trying to avoid drowning right now. If you could have mercy on a novice, it’d be much appreciated.

(I’m a videographer / editor with limited experience using Cinema 4D for motion graphic work)

Current objective is to be able to take a 3d model made from Drone photos (obj.) and get it into Sketchup. There-in, I’d be looking to take that 3d model (terrain and existent structures as intact as possible) and build onto it in sketchup. I have a client that is a city planner and he’s hoping I could create 3d Flythrough renders of an area, before and after development, in pitches to clients and for use in potential grant meetings.

My existent concept as it stands. Please tell me where I’m going wrong:

  1. Use drone photos to build a 3d model in Drone Deploy
  2. Export 3d Model as an OBJ file.
  3. Sketchup will not allow me to import OBJ, so I’'ve been told that converting to STL for import to Sketchup would be wise.
  4. Blender seems to be a good option for converting OBJ to STL
  5. From there I would like to use that file as a base (terrain and structures) that I can then build onto in sketchup

Current questions:

  1. Can anyone help me understand the pitfalls I’m likely to run into in this endeavor?
  2. Is there a better workflow or different file format that you would use for getting the OBJ into Sketchup?
  3. Would it make more sense to export a geotiff or some kind of point cloud from Drone Deploy, and use that for terrain?
  4. Please let me know if this is a doomed mission. As stated, I’m in over my head here. If this whole concept of drone > 3d model > sketchup build is doomed by some technology gap along the way I’d love to have someone kill it for me here, rather than me have to spend weeks learning that it doesn’t work.

Thanks team,
Kasey :smiley:

The first thing you’ll need to do is switch from the free web-based version to Sketchup Pro.

SketchUp Pro has OBJ import.

I expect you can do what you need to do with SketchUp. How large of an area do you hope to cover?

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Hey Dave,
Thank for the response.

Project size will likely vary. For a jumping off point, I’d think maybe a dozen-or-so acres? Probably enough to encompass a cul-de-sac or similar size.

I’m currently in search of just a proof-of-concept. I was hoping to find a workaround to having invest in Sketchup pro. I’d like to be able to judge its capabilities and be able to deliver a sample model to my city-planner to ensure I can deliver what he needs.

Is there a sensible workaround that’s known?

Thanks again Dave.

There’s a 30-day trial period for SketchUp Pro. You can evaluate it during that time. There’s a pretty substantial difference between SketchUp Pro and the web-based version so you should be evaluating the version you’d be using. Since you’re going to be using it commercially, you’ll have to use SketchUp Pro anyhow.

I don’t think the concept is necessarily doomed, but the devil is in the details!

A lot will depend on just what sort of geometry Drone Deploy puts into the obj file it creates. I have no experience with or access to it, so I don’t know. Simple polygonal faces should be ok, but the obj format also supports some elements that have no equivalent in SketchUp and therefore can’t be imported. Success would depend on whether Drone Deploy uses any of these for things that matter to you. Do you have any example files available?

Assuming the obj file can be imported successfully, I can imagine some issues that would require additional effort and experimentation to see how bad or not they are. For example:

  • Some 3D modelers cover a surface with a spider’s web of small triangles. Although these are legitimate geometry, they can make a model very awkward to work with in SketchUp. There are SketchUp extensions that can help reduce excessive triangulation, with mixed success. I note that converting to stl won’t help, as it is entirely made of triangles. So, again, this needs some playing with real examples to find out.
  • I doubt that DroneDeploy automatically separates terrain from foliage and man-made objects in the scene. That is, a building will look like a very regular bump in the terrain but will essentially be treated as part of the terrain. I can imagine that for your purposes it would be valuable to the city planner if you can separate such things, and that would take some work in the SketchUp model.
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I’ve done exactly what you’re asking…took some tweaking. Private message me for step by step unless others want to know as well.

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I’d be interested in your workflow Eric

As mentioned already the OBJ polycount will most likely be too high for SU to work effectively so decimating the model before import will probably be required but there’s an art to finding a balance [for my use ~100k triangles OBJs are a good starting point in SU]. However, the detail in the original terrain model will probably end being too low without good skills in reprocessing the 3d mesh.

Isn’t C4D more appropriate for this though?

hi Eric
I’d also be interested in your workflow.

I use Photoscan Pro to generate contours, trace off in SU to create terrain and texture separately for Vray.
I can’t find a way to get .shp shape files (or .dxf exported from PhtoScan for that matter) into SU, Ive been trying to use QGIS as an intermediate step to try and sort out but with no real luck, hence tracing manually in SU

Hey Eric! in the spirit of the forum, can you please share here, rather than via DM?

EDIT: Please?


Only because you asked so nicely @TheOnlyAaron jk.


See notes for step-by-step written on images. Let me know if anyone has any follow up questions. Should be pretty straight forward.




Quick after thought, for those curious, Drone Deploy provides two file types when exporting to 3D: 1 is the OBJ (mesh only) and 2. is the texture file(s). See below for example how algorithm splices various images up and then magically stitches them back together again.

Pretty trippy:

If you need it, you can export just a flattened aerial from Drone Deploy or grab it again from SketchUp with a Paralell Projection Plan view scene:


@samnorth - check out my process below and let me know what you think is too High Poly count these days. It wasn’t that long ago that a few 3D trees would bog down my model to nearly unusable. But now, with new SU version and some smart layer and scene settings along with breaking large models up and re-linking into master model… I’ve managed a 38 million+ polygon model.


This is very impressive work to see! Bravo! And quite the inspiration! Thank you for sharing.


Thanks Eric. I’ve been using a similar route via Blender so that’s good to see.

If possible I try to keep the poly count low enough to keep things fluid with the mesh visible. 100k OBJs are good for me without slowing things down - my PC is pretty old! I agree things are better with SU2018 - not sure i’d tackle 38m polys though!

Do you do the data capture yourself?

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No I don’t own a drone. I have a friend who flies one for video and I asked to him to send me some files to play around with. Was happy with initial test and looking forward to exploring more detailed workflows using 3D scans for analysis, design and visualization. Stay tuned!


Great it’s very interesting. I intend to get a drone as the quality of the images i have received hasn’t been great on the few projects i’ve done recently. There’s so much potential though…


I found that QuadFace Tools by @thomthom has quite a good OBJ import. (used it to import OBJ files from Hololens)

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Thats a very interesting approach, I hadn’t considered the Vray proxy angle.
Also it would be useful to separate out the buildings from the terrain. In Photoscan and Pix4D you can classify the point cloud (i.e select volumes of points and classify (terrain, buildings, material etc) which you can then turn off and on, would be interesting to see whether you can generate the model mesh excluding particular classes (i.e. the class containing the point cloud representing an original building) so you could export just the terrain. hmmm

Still would like a way to get contours into SU as polylines, then easy to create a pretty clean sandbox terrain.

I would just hire Eric! :slight_smile: Impressive stuff.

But seriously, I don’t know how to do what you need done, BUT I would suggest you get SketchUp Pro. In your case you could bill it to your client and get a freebie. You’ll need it for a thousand other reasons anyway, and it’s just the cost of doing business. I’m locking down more work in my filed of lighting design because I’ve learned to do things in SketchUp and Photoshop, and other software that my competitors cannot do, so investing in tech in both time and learning will pay off for you. Best of luck!